Cooking for Human and Forest Health

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

In developing nations, personal health and well-being are not just dependent on what you cook to eat every day. It’s how you cook it that can have the most impact. And not just on human health, but on the environment as well.

A traditional outdoor cookstove

A traditional outdoor cookstove. Credit: McKay Savage/Flickr

Deforestation on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Embu District, Kenya

Deforestation on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Embu District, Kenya. Credit: Trees For the Future/Flickr

Roughly three billion people around the world rely on open-fire cookstoves to prepare their food. However, these traditional stoves are not properly ventilated, releasing smoke and ash into people’s homes and ultimately into the atmosphere. This repeated exposure to smoke often leads to serious health problems, including breathing difficulties, respiratory diseases and even lung cancer. According to a recent global health study, the fumes from these stoves kill 3.5 million people per year. This shocking number of deaths is greater than the yearly number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

However, more energy-efficient and “clean” cookstoves have started to gain popularity in developing countries. Not only can these stoves improve human health through better smoke ventilation, but they can also positively affect forests, too.

Last month, an article in National Geographic focused on the positive effects that biochar cookstoves have had on communities in Kenya and Costa Rica, two places where American Forests Global ReLeaf has conducted reforestation projects. In a traditional open-fire cookstove, wood or charcoal is burned for fuel while carbon and soot is released into the air. But in a biochar cookstove, a dark residue (biochar) is produced when biomass is burned. The biochar can then be collected and used as a kind of fertilizer to improve the nutrient levels and overall quality of depleted soil. By replacing carbon emissions with biochar, these stoves can benefit the land and are less harmful to the atmosphere.

Biochar also reduces stress on local forests. Art Donnelly, the president of a biochar cookstove manufacturing company called SeaChar, told National Geographic that a biochar stove needs 40 percent less wood to operate than an open-fire stove. For many people, these cookstoves have greatly decreased the need to gather wood, reducing the amount of trees that need to be cut down for fuel. Although deforestation has already negatively impacted some countries like Kenya, biochar could be a new solution to this problem.

In Kenya, the demand for charcoal and hardwood has caused drastic changes to the landscape, eroding soil and decreasing biodiversity. But with new technology like biochar and a greater awareness about the benefits that cookstoves can have on human health and the environment, communities can take action and begin protecting the trees they depend on every day.

Creative Champions for Trees

by Loose Leaf Contributor
2011 American Forests and Scotties tree planting event

A 2011 American Forests and Scotties tree planting event in Miami. Credit: American Forests

We’ve reached the homestretch of the Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest. That means you only have one week left to vote for your favorite contestant!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard from our finalists about why trees are so important to their communities and schools. These kids have creatively expressed their love of nature and have big ideas for how they would use $10,000 to improve their schools’ outdoor environment.

Should Sarah, Sean or Vince win the prize money? You decide! Meet these last three finalists below, watch the other videos and cast your vote!

Sarah S. from Lone Oak, Texas, would like her school to plant more trees that will provide shade for her and her fellow classmates. Sarah explains how trees provide us with oxygen while ridding the atmosphere of harmful pollutants.

Sean S. from Cary, N.C., reports from the Trees Rock News Network about how trees provide suitable habitats for many animals. Sean hopes to plant at least 30 trees at his school to provide shade for a play area.

Vince G. from Santa Cruz, Calif., talks about how mighty redwood trees positively affect his community. He explains how trees prevent erosion and provide goods like paper and food. Vince would like his school to have more trees that will provide shade for concrete sidewalks and play areas.

If you enjoyed these videos, remember to vote for your favorite every day until February 15th at!

Did you miss our previous profiles? Meet Audrey K., Anuhar C. and Cate G. and Kaylee L., Kyle P. and McCoy P. and Oliver Z., Ryan C., and Ryan M.

We Love Our Western Public Lands

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Yesterday, Colorado College in Colorado Springs released its third annual “Conservation in the West” poll, which illuminates how much western residents value their public lands.

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park. Credit: F. Delventhal/Flickr

Conducted as part of the college’s State of the Rockies project, the bipartisan poll of residents in six states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana) revealed that 91 percent of westerners agree that the region’s public lands — we’re talking national parks, forests, monuments, wildlife refuges and the like — are essential to the state’s economy. Drilling a bit deeper, 79 percent of respondents believe that public lands improve their quality of life and 74 percent think they attract high quality employers to the region. These percentages make it hardly surprising that when it comes to selling public lands to corporations for development, 71 percent of those surveyed oppose the idea. While this poll is based on the perceptions of those individuals living in the region, we’ve already discussed a 2012 research report that has the figures to back up how the West’s economy is growing rapidly thanks to public lands. So, it appears that the bottom line is that both people and the economy are recognizing how good public lands are for the West. Now, we just need to make sure those public lands stay healthy.

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project was founded to help increase public understanding of the vital issues facing the Rocky Mountain region, which include water supply concerns — 27 million people rely on the Colorado River Basin, but climate projections indicate that the future may hold drier conditions for the famed river. Also hampering the West’s waterways is tree loss.

Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Grand Tetons, Wyoming. Credit: Frank Kovalcheck/Flickr

Almost 42 million acres of forest in 10 western states are considered to be dead or dying. Drilling down even further, a deadly disease and a beetle are killing swaths of high-elevation forests throughout the Rockies. And for anyone who has ever gazed at a beautiful mountaintop, you know that the high elevations are where the snow “lives.” The trees that live there, too, help regulate how quickly the snow melts and help filter the water coming from these high sources. In periods of drought or scarcity, their role becomes even more important. So what happens if they’re not there? That’s too scary to even contemplate, which is why we launched our Endangered Western Forests initiative last year.

The initiative has many goals, but ultimately, we’re searching for ways to protect our western forests and improve their health. And we’re doing it in some of the most famous public lands in the U.S.: the Greater Yellowstone Area. With more than three million people visiting Yellowstone National Park alone each summer to partake in its beauty, recreation and wonder, we think it’s an area worth saving — and hope you do to.

More Than a Paper Tiger

by Susan Laszewski
Sumatran tiger.

Sumatran tiger. Credit: Roger Smith/Flickr

Big news this week in the paper industry. Jakarta-based paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), the largest paper and pulp company in Indonesia and the third largest in the world, has agreed to stop clearing natural forests and use “only plantation forest,” as managing director of sustainability Aida Greenburg told Reuters. The news, announced on Tuesday, follows years of advocacy by groups such as the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and the Forest Trust, who will continue to monitor APP’s Indonesian operations.

Having worked in Indonesia with The Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), Gunung Leuser National Park and the Farmer Guardians of Leuser to restore areas of illegally converted protected forest, we’re happy to hear the news. According to Orangutan Foundation International, Indonesia is home to 10 percent of the world’s remaining rainforests and is one of the five most species-diverse countries in the world. Such a biodiversity hot-spot has global significance, yet Indonesia is also the country with the third highest number of threatened species.


Orangutan. Credit: Tony Hisgett/Flickr

Among the many endangered animals that have been further threatened by APP’s forest clearing activities are Sumatran orangutans — a more social species than their Bornean relatives, often gathering together at fig trees to enjoy a favorite fruit — and Sumatran tigers, the smallest and darkest tiger subspecies. The ramin tree, a protected genus, was also discovered among some of the trees at an APP paper mill.

These endangered species are not the only ones who will benefit from APP’s proposed new practices. A large percentage of the land the company had been operating in is forested peatland, storing high levels of carbon that are released as the forests are cleared. APP’s plan to rely on farmed trees will have a big effect on its contribution to atmospheric carbon levels.

A Dividing Issue

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Last month, I talked about the connection between climate change and forests in response to President Obama’s inaugural address, but there was another primary topic of that address that could have implications for our environment: immigration. On the surface, immigration and the environment don’t seem to be the likeliest of bedfellows, but they can be closely linked.

Black bear

Black bear. Credit: Jitze Couperus/Flickr

As reported by E&E News, more than 600 miles of fencing have been erected along the U.S.-Mexico border in the last six years, cutting through swaths of diverse ecosystems. While designed to keep people from crossing between countries, nature doesn’t recognize political boundaries — and many wildlife species could find themselves on the wrong side of the fence. Wildlife ecologist Clint Epps, who completed a study in 2009 on the potential effect of a U.S.-Mexico border, tells E&E News, “The porous nature of that border has been really important for wildlife. The only reason we have black bears [in the Southwest] is because they came up from Mexico. They had been exterminated here, but they colonized Big Bend National Park in the 1990s. And the only reason we have jaguars is because they come up from Mexico.”

Sulphur butterfly

A sulphur butterfly. Many subspecies of sulphur butterflies make their home in Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Michael Khor/Flickr

Over the years, research has shown how fragmented forests — those with roads, agricultural fields, cities, houses, fences, etc. between different stands of trees — can adversely impact wildlife migration. For more than 15 years, American Forests has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to repair fragmented forest for the benefit of threatened and endangered species, like ocelot, that make their home along the U.S.-Mexico border. We’ve helped plant more than 1.5 million trees in our efforts to preserve this area that is also home to plant, butterfly, bird and wildlife species that cumulatively number in the thousands.

We’ve worked in Veracruz, Mexico, to restore critically important migratory bird habitat that had been fragmented by urbanization. We’ve supported and advocated for policy changes to protect the threatened northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest from fragmentation threats — not to mention Global ReLeaf projects to restore spotted owl habitat.

And I’ve only listed a few of our forest fragmentation activities: Forest fragmentation is a big deal for forests and wildlife. Now, with climate change, many species will likely be adapting their migration patterns. This means that protecting wildlife habitat ranges, which could be a few miles to hundreds of miles, will become increasingly tricky. But it’s a puzzle worth solving.

The Best Urban Forests

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director

Top 10 graphic - 10 Best CitiesWe are excited today to announce the 10 best U.S. cities for urban forests. In alphabetical order, those cities are Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

American Forests took on this project to help people (and city leaders) better understand the critical value of urban forests in their cities — to their own lives, health, economies and well-being of their communities. And to, therefore, invest in their urban forests. We see proactive individuals as a key to maintaining urban forests. These people recognize that trees around them are not just pretty shade providers, but are essential elements of the natural fabric of the planet that we depend upon for survival.

The 10 best cities that we are recognizing today have made prolonged and profound investments in the health of their urban forest, and they’ve benefited from active nonprofit and community participation in improving and maintaining the city’s environmental resources. We extol these cities’ efforts and dedication to urban forests to elevate the quality of life for citizens and visitors alike and hope that other cities will be inspired by their success.

Minneapolis' urban forest

A view of central Minneapolis, one of American Forests 10 best cities for urban forests, from across the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. Credit: Ron Reiring

I’d like to thank our expert panel, which included technical advisors from the U.S. Forest Service, who devoted hours of time to look at independent data and American Forests’ survey responses from local urban forest professionals and community forestry nonprofits in order to help determine our 10 best cities. And, of course, the Forest Service itself, which provided grant funding to support this project.

What did we learn? We thought we knew a lot about what urban forests do for people. What we learned was how innovative people are in working for the forests in their cities. Each one with similar and different problems, similar and different solutions. We hope the shared takeaways will create a basis for better understanding as to how to address the new challenges we face each day as climate change alters the timing of seasons, the frequency and severity of storms and the threats of disease and insect infestations that were previously checked by colder winters.

Over the years, science has increasingly shown that urban forests are so much more than a beautification strategy. Yet, we sometimes forget that these environments that do so much for us — removing carbon dioxide, controlling stormwater and flooding and providing restful, stress-reducing oases in the middle of urban life — cannot exist without our help. With 80 percent of the U.S. population currently living in urban areas and the urban land area in the U.S. expected to more than double by 2050, now is the time to plan, plant and foster our urban forests. Trees don’t grow up overnight, but a healthy urban forests’ benefits can be enjoyed by generations.

Sharing Their Love of Trees

by Loose Leaf Contributor
American Forests and Scotties tree planting event

An American Forests and Scotties tree planting event in Charlotte in 2009. Credit: American Forests

The competition is heating up!

With less than two weeks left in the Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest, we’re featuring three more finalists who want your votes. While kids from all over the United States submitted videos, 12 finalists stood out and presented compelling reasons for why trees are essential to the well-being of our environment.

Now, they each have a chance to win $10,000 to improve outdoor spaces at their schools. But they need your help! Learn about three of the contestants below, and watch the other videos. Then, show your support by voting for your favorite!
Oliver Z. from Tampa, Fla., and his classmates at Pepin Elementary demonstrate how trees produce oxygen and sugars from photosynthesis.

Ryan C. from Hoboken, N.J., explains how flood waters from Hurricane Sandy destroyed his school’s garden. Ryan hopes to rebuild the garden and replace the trees and plants lost during the storm.

Ryan M. from Wesley Chapel, Fla., talks about the important roles that trees have in maintaining a balanced environment, which include absorbing carbon dioxide and providing shade. Ryan would like to have an outdoor classroom and lunch area at his school.

Vote for your favorite videos every day until February 15th at Check back next Monday to see the profiles our last three finalists!

Did you miss our previous profiles? Meet Audrey K., Anuhar C. and Cate G. and Kaylee L., Kyle P. and McCoy P.

Three Cheers for Wetlands

by Susan Laszewski
Bald cypress

Bald cypress can live in deep water. Credit: Nietnagel/Flickr

Tomorrow is World Wetlands Day. Time to join the other 162 countries that are signatories of the Convention on Wetlands — brought into effect 42 years ago on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Ramsar, Iran — to celebrate these important ecosystems. The word “wetland” is often associated with marshes, but there are as many types of wetlands as there are colors in the rainbow. In the United States, some of the most common types are marshes, swamps, bogs and fens. Do you know what sets them apart?

A marsh is a wetland whose primary source of water is surface water, such as a lake, river or — in the case of tidal marshes — the sea. The marsh’s landscape is dominated by soft-stemmed plants like cattail or reed grass.

A swamp, on the other hand, is dominated by woody plants. The shrubs and trees that grow in a swamp are well-suited to water, like the cypress trees that we’re partnering with The Nature Conservancy to plant in South Carolina’s Washo Reserve or the several varieties of oak that we’re planting in Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, with the National Wild Turkey Federation.

sphagnum moss and pitcher plant

Sphagnum moss and pitcher plant. Credit: Sandy Richard/Flickr

A bog is my favorite kind of wetland, both because of how it forms and because of the rare species that live there. The main ingredient of a bog is sphagnum moss, which holds rain water to create the moist wetland environment. Bogs can form in one of two ways. Sometimes, the sphagnum moss slowly covers a patch of earth, where it then prevents rainwater from leaving the surface. Other times, the moss can actually grow over a pond or other body of water, eventually filling it in a process known as terrestrialization. The sphagnum moss performs magic, turning water into land! A bog is a very acidic environment, and it takes a certain kind of species to thrive there. Many carnivorous plants call the bog home, such as sundews and pitcher plants. They may seem out-of-this-world, but they’re all part of Earth’s incredible biodiversity.


Sundew. Credit: listentothemountains/Flickr

A fen is very similar to a bog, but it relies not just on precipitation as a water source, but also on groundwater, making it less acidic and more hospitable to a wider variety of plants, including colorful wildflowers.

One thing all these types of wetlands have in common is that they help prevent flooding, whether by absorbing precipitation or by slowing and storing water. In addition, many wetlands clean polluted water, acting as natural filters. In fact, many cities are now using wetlands as green infrastructure.

Which of these types of wetlands are found near you?

Budding Out of Season

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

The old adage that April showers bring May flowers may be in danger.

Red maple flower

New research estimates that by 2100, the red maple (pictured) will be budding eight to 40 days earlier than it does now. Credit: Wendy VanDyk Evans,

In a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of researchers from Princeton University reveal how a new model they’ve developed has projected that the timing of trees’ budburst will be shifting over the next century.

What is budburst exactly? It refers to when leaves, flowers and such bud on a plant or tree at the beginning of each growing season. The Princeton study looked specifically at the spring budburst of deciduous trees and what they found is that expected warmer temperatures could cause budburst to shift as much as 40 days by 2100 for certain species and climate zones. The team also discovered that budburst shifts weren’t isolated to specific types of species, such as early vs. late-budding trees, although late-budding trees will likely shift more and narrow the window between early and late buds.

Princeton’s researchers posit that these budburst shifts could lead to an alteration in forest compositions, as earlier-budding deciduous trees may begin to grow faster than evergreens. And it could affect springtime weather. As explained in Princeton’s blog on the research, “Budburst causes an abrupt change in how quickly energy, water and pollutants are exchanged between the land and the atmosphere. Once the leaves come out, energy from the sun is increasingly used to evaporate water from the leaves rather than to heat up the surface. This can lead to changes in daily temperature ranges, surface humidity, stream flow and even nutrient loss from ecosystems.”

Who knew such a seemingly little thing like a bud and its bursting time could have such big consequences?

Lone Wolverine

by Susan Laszewski

Last week, my attention was grabbed by a species, the grizzly bear, that has been going through a promising recovery, but is now facing a new foe. Now, another such animal is expected to gain protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolverine. Credit: Leo Reynolds/Flickr

Wolverine. Credit: Leo Reynolds/Flickr

Like grizzlies, North American wolverines have come back from the brink. In the early 20th century, human encroachment on their habitat led to a dangerous decline in numbers, but today, wolverines once again roam a large section of their old range in the Mountain West, from Alaska and the Canadian Rockies to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

One wolverine in particular has become a sort of mascot for his species’ miraculous recovery. Enter M56. Fitted with a transmitter that tracks his location, M56 was once your average Wyoming wolverine, but in 2009, he became a symbol of hope for his species’ future when he made a 500-mile trek into Colorado, becoming the only known wolverine in the state and very likely the first to live there since wolverines disappeared from the southern reaches of their range nearly a century ago.

But, this success story is not all that wolverines have in common with grizzlies. Both are facing a new foe brought on by climate change. These new challenges suggest we may want to temper our hopes.

Wolverines love — need, actually — snow. And I’m not talking about a dusting. An environment too harsh for many is just right for them. They can even smell food beneath 20 feet of snow! Females dig their dens in snow. The litter of two to three cubs requires a warm, safe den in about 15 feet of snow that will last well into the spring. As the warming climate lessens snowpack and brings about earlier snow melt, wolverines’ habitat is threatened.

Wolverines rely on deep snow for their dens. Credit: Glacier NPS/Flickr.

Wolverines rely on deep snow for their dens. Credit: Glacier NPS/Flickr.

The threat is serious enough that in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that wolverines should be a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, citing climate change as the primary reason. Actual listing was delayed as the agency focused on species in greater need, but now, the wolverine’s status has been revisited. After deliberations this month the Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to list the wolverine as “threatened,” halting trapping of the animal. This year’s trapping season in Montana had already been suspended in anticipation of the decision.

With 2012 having gone down as the warmest year in recorded history, the potential threat to wolverines is inching closer and closer to a reality. Four years since his journey, M56 is still believed to be the only trail-blazing wolverine in Colorado. As warming continues, it seems less likely that others will join him there.

You can help by helping us plant more trees. Trees in high elevations help retain the spring snowpack that wolverines rely on, while trees in forests everywhere help sequester carbon, reducing the amount of carbon in the air contributing to the greenhouse effect. Learn more about how trees help mitigate climate change.